Swarthmore's student body is amazing. What I liked the most when I first arrived was that people didn't seem to fit into the groups that I had grown up with in high school. The captain of the soccer team also starred in musicals. There wasn't one group that was "the" group that defined everyone else. This was made quite clear when a woman from Princeton came to Swarthmore to start diversity conversation groups based on a Princeton model. When talking with interested students, she asked us to think of the group that if we got them to be involved, everyone else would follow them. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. Finally I stuck up my hand and commented that we didn't really have any group like that, there were just sort of a bunch of groups who did as the pleased and intermingled. Groups do form. There are moments when you are frustrated and feel stuck within your own group, but it's not impossible to keep expanding your friend base. There are most definitely still racial, class, and sexuality issues. Athletes are often friends with mainly other athletes. Thing about Swarthmore is, though, you can choose to follow those lines or not. Sometimes you just have to make a bigger effort. I cannot speak highly enough of the people who attend Swarthmore. I made life-long friends at Swarthmore. Even if we talk less now due to the fact that we are scattered around the world, I feel really lucky to have met these people and count them among my friends. Another neat thing about Swarthmore is the idea of "you make your own normal." If you want to wear a cape to class, fine. If you want to never wear shoes or grow a mustache for all of November, fine. If you want to go out and party like a madwoman every week night, fine. If you want to go to the library and study on a Friday, fine. You make your own normal.
A student might feel out of place if he or she was extremely conservative or religious, but there are several Christian groups and a campus republicans. There are large support systems in place for students of color and queer students, including an Intercultural Center (that houses Asian, Latino, Jewish, Queer, Queer and of Color, Class Activist and other groups and events), a Black Cultural Center, and deans who focus on IC issues and gender/sexuality issues. Students don't really tend to dress up for class at all, or really ever wear designer or expensive clothes. Because we only have one dining hall, most people on campus have seen each other if not spoken. No one is really cliquey or rude to other groups of students. The jocks tend to stick together, and the black kids, and the people who are heavily involved in the IC, etc, but no one really gives other groups a hard time. Most students are white, middle class, and from the middle-atlantic region of the northeast. Students are predominantly left-wing, and moderately politically aware/active. Students almost never talk about how much money they plan on earning one day; that seems to be barely even on the radar, unless they're joking about how poor they'll be working in academia/public service.
i'd say that students are pretty segregated, which i think is sad, but not different from any college in america. ha, i know republicans feel out of place at swat. students wear anything, i've seen stiletto heels and i've seen pajamas. different types of students definitely interact one and one, but the groups of students you see together tend to be fairly homogeneous. if there were 4 tables, one would be the fratboys, one would be the dirty hippie frisbee players, one would be the SWIL table (but they aren't called that anymore), and one would be a sad kid sitting all by himself and mumbling into his cell phone headset. students are from all over the country and even the world. i'd say upper middle class to rich predominates financial background, which i find sad, again. i felt really out of place often because to these students, it's nothing to pay $100 per private dance lesson, or to go to rome on spring break. students are VERY politically aware, though certainly you find apathetic people. they are very left with some loud conservatives. i don't recall most of them talking about making a lot of money, except for some of the aforementioned conservatives.
So...we're liberal. We're smart and we know it. A lot of Swatties are involved with a lot of progressive groups and organizations, and generally there are some pretty amazing people all around you. That girl next to you in seminar? Wrote a book. That guy in front of you at Sharples dinner line? Professional mountain unicyclist. Most of us are pretty idealistic and want to change the world, so we're all resigned to living in boxes. There aren't really any cliques or anything, although there's the general SWIL group and athletes. Since it's such a small group, we have a fair amount of mixing. We really are very diverse here, racially, socio-economically and so on. Whereas in high school, all my friends were Asian, here my closest group of friends are Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Black, South Asian, Asian, Hispanic...and that's really pretty much the norm. People here are also really, really nice. Like, everbody. I've never had so many people who don't personally know me open doors for me or hold an umbrella over me when it's raining. We are generally very considerate and we have good relationships with each other, the professors, the EVS, the Sharples staff.
Racial/religious: Swat is a very tolerant place. You could argue it's too tolerant as people are happy to put up with some guy writing completely serious 9/11 conspiracy stories in the school newspaper every other week...not something befitting of a school that prides itself on being intellectual. There's a lot of racial diversity and a fair amount of religious diversity (though many Swatties are atheists like myself), there's a large gay community. Feel out of place: I would say 90% of the American population would feel out of place at Swarthmore. I love it but you have to have an intellectual bent, even if you aren't an intellectual. Even when you're joking around, be prepared for an Oliver Twist reference or something like that. from where?: Swarthmore students are from all over the country. I actually think the state with the most students is California. But being from California, I feel like everyone i know is from New Jersey. Financial backgrounds: Most families are upper class or middle class, but half the kids are on financial aid. Politically aware/active: Yes, and predominantly left. Talk about how much they'll earn?: No
I think it's a hard school for conservative students (but they run the world, or did under the Bush administration, so I never really had much sympathy for them)since not just the students and faculty are liberal, but the whole philosophy of the school and pedagogy is liberal. I'm white, queer, jewish, and upper-middle class, so I don't know that I can really speak to the experience of people of color at the school. I have been told it is a good place for people of color, and the school certainly works very hard to make people confront their own internalized racism, classism, etc, but I don't want to speculate on other people's experiences. It was a great school to be queer at. I felt like I got to explore this identity and have a huge, supportive community. Students do not talk about how much they will earn one day. That would be seen as odd. They talk about how they will change the world or what they will study. Making money is seen as suspect.
Swarthmore is diverse racially, with a good number of Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanic students. We have an outspoken LGBT community and practically everyone is accepting of that. Socio-economically, most people are well off: it's an expensive school. But Swat's financial aid tries really hard to help lower-income families pay for the school. What kind of student would feel out of place at Swarthmore? A really preppy person who cares a lot about what they wear and how they look. Also, someone who flaunts brand-name things or takes pride in them. Also, conservatives, though the college Republicans has reemerged on campus, which I see as a good thing. A lot of people are politically aware and have (liberal) opinions, even if they don't discuss them often. Students often worry about how they're going to find a job in the "real world" and actually make money as opposed to living in a box or working in a Barnes and Noble.
Lots of talk about race, sexuality and class. Lots. Sometimes too much. There's one week where LGBT community "chalks" drawings of explicit LGBT stuff all over campus. Sometimes its a little too much--I'm not homophobic but I don't need anal sex thrown in my face everywhere I turn. I admit that I was born into a pretty wealthy family but sometimes I feel like that's a bad thing when I'm here. I shouldn't have to feel like that but I feel like if I complain about it I'll look like a spoiled priss. The clothes people wear to class varies greatly. Some people wear pajamas, some wear suits, some wear jeans and a shirt. And even these vary--some PJs come from the local Target and some come from Ralph Lauren. Some jeans come from Levi's and others are Sevens and Rock and Republics. But despite all this, everyone interacts well. Sexual orientation, religion, race, and class don't get in the way of making friendships.
I was happy with my experience at Swarthmore as a gay. No anti-gay sentiment or anything like that--being gay is completely unremarkable at Swarthmore. Given the school's small size, if you're a gay male you can only really hope for 25 gay guys max per class, so incoming classes' crops o' gays are scrutinized intensely for potential mates. (The straights do this too, although there is a little less pressure on them.) Student attire: It is not possible to feel underdressed at Swarthmore; on the contrary, it is very possible to feel overdressed, as wearing "nice" (i.e. expensive but conventional-looking) will make you stick out like a sore thumb and make you feel like an ass. Political diversity at Swarthmore ranges from centrist Democrat to anarchist. The six or seven Republicans on campus any given year are usually obnoxiously vocal and viewed as douches by everyone else.
The student body is generally liberal, though it is still more centrist than progressive/far leftist. There are interactions across all groups of students, I'd say more than on other campuses. That said, some identity groups stick more to themselves than others (including white students). Students wear a range of things to class, and that is a great thing about residential campuses. Social issues come up very often on campus, which fosters a certain level of civic engagement, which is rare on campuses. Conservative students may feel insecure on campus, but that arises more from an inability to advocate for their positions than from general anti-conservative sentiments. I wish the admissions staff admitted more students from lesser privileged backgrounds.